Researchers ‘film’ the formation of the HIV virus in the body


The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS, a disease that still kills more than half a million people every year.

The formation of HIV virus in the body in pictures

HIV packages the viral genetic material in a capsule containing virus proteins, among other things. While an electron microscope made very sharp pictures of how these proteins are attached to each other, until recently there was no method that could show how they stick together. The electron microscope cannot make moving pictures.

Recently, however, a very fast scanning microscope has come onto the market: the High Speed ​​Atomic Force Microscope (HS-AFM), with which you can make videos. With this microscope it is possible to study molecular processes by touch, but it had not yet been possible to follow the very dynamic process of virus assembly.

Through intensive collaboration between a research group specialized in HIV at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and the Molecular Biophysics research group of professor Wouter Roos of the University of Groningen who have the fast microscope in their laboratory, it was possible to follow virus assembly live. “A technical tour de force”, says Prof. Wouter Roos.

The origin of the HIV virus is like a puzzle

The researchers have shown that virus assembly is not that orderly at all. It is more like puzzling, where puzzle pieces are added in different places, but also removed if it does not seem to fit. In this way it is a seemingly random coming and going of proteins, but there appears to be a logic behind it. Ultimately there is an ordered grid of proteins that forms the basis for the viral particle. Other viruses probably use a similar process to build a virus particle.


The research result has been published in the scientific journal ACS Nano. Now that it is clear how the first steps of virus formation take place, the Groningen and Spanish researchers want to map out the follow-up. In this way, they hope to get a complete picture, starting with the individual building blocks, of how a completely infectious virus particle is formed.

In addition to the fundamental insights into the biology of viruses that this work provides, this also has functional applications. Once it is clear how a virus particle assembles itself, it is possible to search very specifically for antiviral drugs that are aimed at interrupting the assembly of the AIDS virus. In the long term, there is of course the hope that this will also be found for other viruses, such as the corona virus that causes Covid-19 disease.

By: Nationale Zorggids


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